Backfin Blue knows the art of making
Maryland crab cakes
By KATHY SAUNDERS © St. Petersburg Times, published June
(Prices may have changed)
GULFPORT -- We phoned the Backfin Blue Cafe on a
rainy Saturday night on our way home from a youth soccer game. It took a few
minutes for the waiter to hand the phone to the bartender to take our carryout
order. When we arrived at the Gulfport restaurant, we understood the delay --
the place was packed.
We flagged down a busboy, who said he would try to find our takeout order. Most
of the dinner was already packaged, but the bartender said she did not want to
wrap the Key lime pie until we arrived. We were grateful for her thoughtfulness.
Dinner was still hot when we
got home about 15 minutes later.
The salads were large enough to fill a dinner plate and were
fresh with mixed greens -- hardly a leaf of iceberg -- and plenty of red onions
and tomatoes. The balsamic vinaigrette came on the side. We enjoyed the tangy
dressing and could identify oregano and a few other fresh herbs.
Our entrees were delightful.
The Portobello Imperial ($14.95) is one of the house
specialties. Backfin is known for its Maryland-style crab cakes.
"With a good crab cake you don't have to have a lot of filler,
just crab," said owner Harold Russell, whose wife, Beth, is from Maryland.
The crab is mixed with mayonnaise, piled on the large mushroom
and topped with a fire-roasted red bell pepper cream sauce. The dish was spicy
and filling and about the size of a dessert plate.
We chose the sauteed vegetables as a side dish. The fresh
vegetables, summer squash and zucchini, were lightly cooked and crunchy.
In the restaurant's signature dish, jumbo crab cakes ($14.50),
the filling has more crumbs than mayonnaise, unlike the portobello mushroom,
The macadamia nut crusted grouper ($15.50) was fresh, flaky
and not overcooked. The grouper was baked and topped with a crumbly, buttery,
macadamia nut coating that was sweet and crunchy.
I grew up in Hawaii and have tasted many macadamia nut dishes,
but Backfin's is one of the best I've sampled.
Backfin is in the Art Village district of Gulfport in a house
built in 1927 that seats about 50. Russell and his wife take turns cooking and
managing the restaurant and caring for their 4-month-old twins.
Russell, former chef at Shula's Steak House in Tampa, opened
Backfin more than three years ago. He said he brought some of his Tampa dishes
to Gulfport, including bacon-wrapped, basil-stuffed barbecued shrimp ($10.95).
Backfin also offers a five-cheese lasagna ($9.50), homemade
meatloaf ($8.95) and slow-roasted prime rib starting at $11.95. The prime rib is
available after 5 p.m.
We also purchased a loaf of molasses bread ($1.50), which
Russell buys from a Bradenton baker. The multigrain bread was soft and sweet
with a smooth molasses flavor.
Desserts (all $3.50) also are provided by local bakers. We
ordered a slice of Key lime pie, which was fresh and yellow, as it is supposed
to be, not lime green like the pretenders. Cheesecake and chocolate suicide cake
with cocoa pudding, cream cheese icing and raspberry puree were on the menu the
night we called.
Puree of corn and crab meat soup is $3.50 a bowl.
Appetizers include a crab cake with lemon and remoulade sauce
($6.95), a portobello mushroom with gorgonzola cheese ($5.50) and smoked fish
spread with crackers ($4.50).
Besides the house salad ($3.50), Backfin Blue offers sliced
tomatoes with gorgonzola, red onion and vinaigrette ($5.95) and a spinach and
mushroom salad with sliced chicken ($6.50) or with the bacon-wrapped,
basil-stuffed shrimp ($7.95).
Sandwiches are $6.95 and $7.95 and include grouper, chicken,
grilled portobello, meatloaf and the Backfin specialty, crab cakes.
Backfin also offers a children's menu with hot dogs,
spaghetti, peanut butter and jelly and grilled cheese sandwiches.
- What we got:
Portobello mushroom stuffed with lump crab meat with roasted red bell
pepper cream sauce and sauteed vegetables; macadamia nut crusted grouper with
mashed potatoes; two dinner salads with balsamic vinaigrette; one loaf of
multigrain molasses bread and a slice of Key lime pie.
- What it cost: $37.93.
- Time it took: 15 minutes.
- Pay with: Cash and credit cards.
Be prepared to
wait at this funky, friendly cafe that showcases the crab - owner-chef Harold
Russell cooks about 150 pounds a week. Good suggestions include the Backfin Blue
Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, portobello mushrooms and a macadamia nut-crusted fish
Tracey E. Meloni - AOL City Guide
In the heart of the gateway to the Gulf, you'll find
Backfin Blue Cafe, a charming 1920's-era pink and green cottage with a welcoming
front porch. Think 'old Florida' fare, in a casual, laid-back setting. Backfin
Blue draws fans from far and wide, but sorry, the staff doesn't take
reservations. Be prepared to wait for your supper, but it will be worth it.
Well-named, this place produces the best backfin blue crab cakes south of the
Chesapeake: simple and succulent.
Specializing in super-fresh and simply prepared seafood, Backfin Blue offers a
corn-and-crab chowder so good that folks come specifically for it. The gourmet
meat loaf has its own fan club. It's made with gorgonzola and roasted red
peppers, putting Mom's to shame. Portobello mushrooms get dressed up with
gorgonzola, too. Basil-stuffed and bacon-wrapped giant shrimp with spinach salad
make for delicious lighter fare. Try the chocolate suicide cake for dessert.
Average User Rating:
Weekly Planet 2/23/99
Blue Cafe: Closed Tuesdays. Quaint little cafe with classy food,
in the heart of the arty district. Great prime rib and meatloaf, excellent
fish. Don't miss the corn puree with lump crabmeat or the crab cakes. Great
desserts, too. Laid-back, casual and definitely tasty.